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Substantial Reduction of Pain and Suffering Damages Award Ordered on Appeal in Ankle Injury Case

Posted in Ankle Injuries

On June 1, 2002, Ruth Williams tripped and fell down a flight of stairs at the Nevins Street subway station in Brooklyn:

Ms. Williams, at the time an unemployed 51 year old, sustained a badly fractured ankle in the accident and claimed that the subway station operator was liable (because of a missing tile). A Brooklyn jury partly agreed, finding that both parties shared responsibility – the transit authority 80%, Williams 20%.

A separate jury then convened and, on August 17, 2009, awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $1,600,000 ($600,000 past – 7 years, $1,000,000 future – 25 years).

On defendant’s motion claiming excessiveness, the trial judge reduced the award to $400,000 ($150,000 past, $250,000 future).

Now, on plaintiff’s appeal arguing that the jury verdict should be reinstated, the appeals court, in Williams v. New York City Transit Authority (2d Dept. 2012), has ordered  that $600,000 is the proper amount of damages for Ms. Williams.

As indicated in the appellate court’s decision, Ms. Williams sustained a bimalleolar fracture of her ankle (where the lateral malleolus and the medial malleolus are both broken and the ankle is unstable).

Ms. Williams required open reduction and internal fixation surgery in which several screws were inserted into her ankle.

Here are additional injury details:

  • hospitalized five days
  • casted (from ankle to knee) and crutches 10 weeks, brace and wheelchair two months
  • post-traumatic arthritis
  • at the time of trial plaintiff complained of severe pain, swelling stiffness, weakness and numbness in her toes and had 25% loss of range of motion

The defense argued on appeal that plaintiff had largely recovered and that several facts indicated her injury was not terribly debilitating:

  • Plaintiff had never been prescribed pain medication for her ankle and merely used Tylenol and the like over the counter.
  • She was discharged from her surgeon’s care in November 2002, saw him again once in 2005 and then not again until 2009, just before trial.
  • One year after the accident, Ms. Williams took a job tending to a three week old baby and six years later, at the time of trial, she was still tending to the child, five full days a week

Inside Information:

  • The jury’s additional award of $35,000 for future medical expenses was vacated by the trial judge and his decision was affirmed on appeal. While plaintiff’s doctor testified that he had discussed future surgery (ankle fusion) that he thought might cost $10,000, he did not state that the surgery was recommended, needed or likely. Therefore, the future medical expense award was deemed impermissibly speculative and dismissed.
  • Plaintiff’s surgeon testified that x-rays confirmed his diagnosis of degenerative arthritis but he failed to produce the x-rays in court and the defense expert opined that there was no arthritis.